By Mabrouka M’Barek, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mabrouka M’Barek is a Tunisia Constituent Assembly member. The views expressed are the author’s own.
I will always remember how angry I felt two years ago when, comfortably seated at my home in Vermont, I began to read leaked diplomatic cables from Tunisia. The cables described in great detail the alleged greed of the ruling dictator’s family. One of the posts, for example, related to former U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec, who according to a cable was invited by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s son-in-law, Sakher El-Materi, to his home for an extravagant dinner (with ice cream flown in from France).
Every Tunisian who read the leaked document was faced with the bitter truth about the Ben Ali regime, and, after young fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself two years ago, resentment over political and economic marginalization turned to rage, ultimately sparking the Arab Spring.
Sitting in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly today, along with 216 other elected members, it is time to carry on the revolution and honor Bouazizi’s sacrifice by writing a constitution that will protect future generations of Tunisians from the humiliation and profound economic inequality endured under the Ben Ali regime. True, the writing of the constitution is taking time because of the desire for consensus. But Tunisia is facing urgent challenges that require immediate action: economic stagnation, unemployment and shortages of basic household staples.
The international community was swift to offer the Tunisian government an impressive package of assistance in the hopes of improving transparency, good governance and creating jobs. Unfortunately, the measures prescribed by the World Bank came with conditions whose primary goal felt aimed at turning Tunisia into a free trade zone. In rushing to propose a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) agreement, the World Bank and the European Union fail to accept that Tunisia’s agricultural sector cannot compete against highly subsidized European products, just as its service and industry sectors cannot compete against high-tech multinational companies.
Moreover, the massive aid package offered through the World Bank seems disproportionate. The proposed aid would increase Tunisia’s external debt, and will adversely impact its credit rating. A new constitution that consecrates human values, an independent judiciary, unfettered civil society, the rule of law, and open government is not enough if we fail to feed our people.
The Tunisian revolution was not simply about human rights – it was also a wakeup call and a warning over greed. Bouazizi’s sacrifice marked the beginning of the kind of global movement that believes that policies need to put people first, and that everyone deserves access to adequate and nutritious food, health care and education without having to rely on a global economy that is deep in crisis.
It is particularly important to act now, and with the same community spirit that Vermonters showed after Hurricane Irene. Back then, Vermonters launched the campaign, “I am Vermont Strong,” putting people first and relying on communities to strengthen local businesses. As James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, put it: “[S]tronger communities means communities where we no longer have policies that leave so many people vulnerable or threaten the livability of the planet. Even after we recover from Irene, we will still face an ongoing crisis.”
It is not too late for Tunisians to react, stand up and follow Vermont’s lead by asserting that we are “Tunisia Strong.”